NHIAA Basketball: Missing four players, Memorial falls hard
MANCHESTER - With four players, including two starters, sitting on the bench in street clothes, the Memorial High boys' basketball team's five-game winning streak ended Friday night, worn down by Winnacunnet of Hampton, 62-50.
It's just the latest chapter in a season-long tale of missed games by various players for reasons other than injury. It's a story that's growing old on Memorial coach Jack Quirk.
"It's more than a little frustrating," Quirk said after being informed earlier in the day that starters Zoubel Iradukunda and Oumaru Kante, along with reserve Wade Gop, would have to sit out the game for violating school policy. Another reserve, Zach Eddowes, was already sitting out for violating the school's code of conduct.
"When you show up, you don't know what will be the situation," Quirk said. "Kids make decisions and they have to live with it. Unfortunately, other kids are affected."
Playing their second game in as many nights, the Crusaders (12-4) faced a team that would test their stamina. The Warriors (8-8) run two units of five players every few minutes, a style Winnacunnet coach Jay McKenna says he has used to varying degrees this season.
"We did it a little more than normal tonight," McKenna said. "It was working, so we stuck with it."
The Warriors threw a few different trapping presses at the Crusaders to slow them down and then sat back in a 2-3 zone and dared them to shoot from the outside. The strategy worked as the Crusaders constantly turned the ball over and rushed their shots against the zone. They were 3-for-16 on 3-pointers and capped a miserable night shooting by going 11-for-27 from the free throw line.
"We didn't move the ball," Quirk said. "When they see kids missing, they think they have to do more and sometimes they end up doing less."
Winnacunnet didn't shoot the ball much better, but the Warriors got to the loose balls, scoring 13 second-chance points over the middle quarters.
While the Warriors were substituting freely, the Crusaders relied heavily on regulars Tong Akot, Joel Mayola, Kabongo Ngalakulondi and Tshief Ngalakulondi to mix in with a handful of players who were seeing their first major minutes of the season.
The Crusaders trailed 16-14 after one quarter and 27-22 at the half before Akot (14 points) and Mayola (7) sparked a 10-0 run to take a 42-38 lead with 1:49 left in the third quarter. Winnacunnet's Rich Ruffin (22 points) answered with seven points in the final 80 seconds of the quarter to put the Warriors up, 45-44.
Winnacunnet never trailed in the fourth quarter, although the Crusaders had their chances. They were 1-for-11 from the field and 4-for-8 from the foul line in the stanza as fatigue became a factor.
"It takes its toll on the kids when they have to play more minutes," Quirk said.
Winnacunnet, on the other hand, iced the game by making 11 of 13 free throws in the final quarter.
Quirk said all players except Eddowes are eligible to play Tuesday in Hudson against Alvirne.
"When you're on a team, you're expected to be on a team, but who knows," Quirk said. "The only thing I can depend on is undependability."